Update December 5th 9:57AM: Panda Global CEO Alan Bunney has been removed from his position as CEO. Following Smash World Tour's cancelation, Panda Global says it removed Bunney due to "the concerns of the Smash community". A temporary interim management committee made up of anonymous Panda employees has been formed to act as the company's CEO.
Bunney himself says he will soon make a statement outlining his side of the story, making reference to Smash World Tour "lying" and Beyond the Summit's leadership [putting] the community in jeopardy". It's clear this isn't going to go away anytime soon. Original story follows below.
Original story: The upcoming Smash World Tour Championships and 2023 Smash World Tour have been canceled. According to the event organizers, Nintendo contacted them "without any warning" to tell them they could no longer go ahead with the event, despite months of constructive conversations between the gaming giant and the organizers.
Yesterday, the organizers of Smash World Tour, which is a curated series of Super Smash Bros esports tournaments, posted a lengthy statement explaining the reasons behind the event's cancellation. In essence, the organizers had been running Smash World Tour with no license from Nintendo, and while the company had tolerated that previously, that tolerance now seems to be at an end.
In the statement, the Smash World Tour folks discuss a call they had with Nintendo last year, in which the studio pointed to Smash World Tour "represent[ing] Nintendo's values well" and not using third-party mods as part of its tournament lineup. Nintendo said it wanted to work with Smash World Tour and asked if the organizers were interested in pursuing a license.
This is partly a reference to the fact that Nintendo's relationship with Super Smash Bros tournaments has been a touch patchy in the past. The company previously shut down a Smash Bros tournament over an online mod intended to improve connectivity through rollback netcode, and has also canceled events for using modified versions of Smash. These are decisions that Smash Bros streamers and insiders have said are damaging to the relationship between Nintendo and its fanbase, but it looked for a while like that might be improving with Smash World Tour.
Last year, Nintendo announced it would partner with Panda Global for the first officially-licensed Super Smash Bros tournament circuit. However, Nintendo subsequently expressed frustration (according to Smash World Tour) with Panda Global CEO Alan Bunney's behavior, which involved telling tournament hosts not to join Smash World Tour and making "a variety of threats" against broadcaster Beyond the Summit over the issue of broadcasting rights.
Nintendo told Smash World Tour that Panda's license "is not exclusive", according to Smash World Tour's statement, and Smash World Tour subsequently applied for a 2022 license. However, Nintendo took a long time to respond to the application, so Smash World Tour announced its event in August, a decision the organizers say Nintendo "completely understood", according to them.
Smash World Tour reconvened with Nintendo earlier in November, when they were told regular meetings should continue in order to discuss event planning. However, last week, Smash World Tour was abruptly told that Nintendo "expects [them] to only operate with a commercial license" and that no license would be granted either for the upcoming Championships or for any 2023 event.
Nintendo's reasoning for this decision, according to Smash World Tour, was "misinformed", but subsequently, Nintendo simply said it could not give specifics. Smash World Tour requested to run the event without a license for 2023 and shift focus to obtaining one for 2024, but was told that the times when this was possible were "now over" (that's the Smash World Tour statement's wording, anyway). The organizers say they will be contacting staff, attendees, and contractors regarding refunds, travel costs and arrangements, and anything else outstanding for next month's Championships.
Kotaku reached out to Nintendo for comment on this story. Here's the statement Kotaku received from Nintendo in full.
Unfortunately after continuous conversations with Smash World Tour, and after giving the same deep consideration we apply to any potential partner, we were unable to come to an agreement with SWT for a full circuit in 2023. Nintendo did not request any changes to or cancellation of remaining events in 2022, including the 2022 Championship event, considering the negative impact on the players who were already planning to participate.
Smash World Tour subsequently issued its own response to Nintendo's statement. In the response, the organizers say they are "unsure" why Nintendo is "taking this angle". The response says Nintendo told the organizers that they couldn't run events without a license, and that a license could not be granted for the 2022 Championships, so in effect, Nintendo did actually "request any changes to or cancellation of" remaining 2022 events. It doesn't look like this is going to come to an end anytime soon, so stay tuned for more updates.